Obama Threads the Needle With Drilling Plan


U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaks about his department's clean energy initiatives at the American Wind Energy Association's annual Offshore Wind Power Conference in Baltimore, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. U.S. Salazar said the nation's second offshore wind power lease could be weeks away. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)  
National Journal
Olga Belogolova
Nov. 9, 2011, 9:45 a.m.

Nobody is really happy with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new five-year oil-and-gas drilling plan, which took a few steps back from the pres­id­ent’s pre-BP-spill drilling pro­pos­al of 2010 but also a few steps for­ward from what en­vir­on­ment­al­ists wanted by al­low­ing more ex­plor­a­tion off the coast of Alaska. But neither is any­one really all that angry about the new pro­pos­al, which In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Ken Salaz­ar un­veiled on Tues­day.

“There’s people un­happy on both sides, which is usu­ally a sig­nal that there’s a fairly reas­on­able bal­ance,” Mi­chael Conath­an, dir­ect­or of ocean policy at the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

“They’ve man­aged to put something out there that every­body can hate,” he said.

The plan to open up the Beaufort and Chuk­chi seas and the Cook In­let in Alaska, as well as more areas in the Gulf of Mex­ico, brought swift re­ac­tions from law­makers, in­dustry rep­res­ent­at­ives, and en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists. The com­mon theme: dis­ap­point­ment.

Erik Milito, group dir­ect­or of up­stream and in­dustry op­er­a­tions at the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, had hoped for a broad­er reach, but still called the plan “a good first step.”

“Des­pite our dis­ap­point­ment with this trimmed down leas­ing pro­gram, we will con­tin­ue to seek more ro­bust off­shore lease sales in the fu­ture,” Milito said in a state­ment, ur­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­con­sider its ex­clu­sion of areas off the coast of Vir­gin­ia and else­where along the East­ern sea­board.

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner of Vir­gin­ia echoed those re­marks.

“This is dis­ap­point­ing, be­cause the safe, re­spons­ible de­vel­op­ment of off­shore en­ergy re­sources has broad sup­port from Vir­gini­ans and among the bi­par­tis­an elec­ted lead­er­ship of the state,” Warner said in a state­ment, also ex­press­ing hope that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would re­con­sider more coastal drilling be­fore is­su­ing a fi­nal plan when the cur­rent one ex­pires next June.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists, as ex­pec­ted, were pleased with In­teri­or’s de­cision to rule out de­vel­op­ment along the At­lantic Coast, but ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans to leave de­vel­op­ment off the coast of Alaska on the table.

The plan calls for one lease sale in 2015 in the Beaufort Sea, one lease sale in 2016 in the Chuk­chi Sea, and one spe­cial-in­terest sale in the Cook In­let.

“While we in­clude the Chuk­chi and the Beaufort seas, we have put off any po­ten­tial sales un­der that plan un­til later in the peri­od,” Deputy In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Dav­id Hayes said at the un­veil­ing. “Our ap­proach is to use the in­ter­ven­ing years to bet­ter ad­dress the sci­ence gaps.”

Des­pite the buf­fer that In­teri­or gave it­self with those lease sales, en­vir­on­ment­al­ists still ques­tioned the de­cision.

“BOEM has taken one step for­ward by bet­ter tar­get­ing lease sales,” Oceana Pa­cific seni­or coun­sel Mi­chael LeV­ine said in a state­ment, re­fer­ring to In­teri­or’s Bur­eau of Ocean En­ergy Man­age­ment. “At the same time, it has taken two steps back­ward by com­mit­ting to lease sales in the Chuk­chi and Beaufort seas.”

The mixed re­views from all sides demon­strate the ways in which the ad­min­is­tra­tion had man­aged to straddle the line with this an­nounce­ment, just as it was hop­ing.

“Fun­da­ment­al to the pro­posed pro­gram is strik­ing the right bal­ance between the be­ne­fits of re­source de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing the eco­nom­ic and em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits of re­source de­vel­op­ment, with the im­per­at­ives of en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion,” said Tommy Beau­dr­eau, the head of BOEM.

Even House Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Ed­ward Mar­key, D-Mass., a long­time drilling crit­ic, praised the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bal­anced ap­proach.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan would con­tin­ue to pro­mote oil and gas pro­duc­tion, but re­cog­nizes that safety meas­ures need im­prove­ment, es­pe­cially in the harsh con­di­tions in Alaska,” Mar­key said in a state­ment.

Still, the pro­pos­al rep­res­ents a scaled-back ap­proach for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Be­fore the BP spill in April 2010 sent nearly 4.9 mil­lion bar­rels of oil in­to the Gulf of Mex­ico, Obama floated a drilling plan that was far more am­bi­tious.

Just a month be­fore the spill, Obama pro­posed leas­ing areas off Alaska’s coast, but also off the At­lantic Coast and fur­ther in­to the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico. The plan was in­ten­ded to re­duce for­eign-oil de­pend­ence and gen­er­ate rev­en­ue from the sale of off­shore leases, and at the time, Obama was also seek­ing con­ces­sions from Re­pub­lic­ans and mod­er­ate Demo­crats on com­pre­hens­ive cli­mate le­gis­la­tion that was to be taken up by the Sen­ate a few weeks later.

“We need to move bey­ond the tired de­bates of the left and the right, between the busi­ness lead­ers and en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure-all and those would claim it has no place,” Obama said in a speech pro­mot­ing his plans on March 31, 2010. But the BP spill that began a few weeks later blew those plans out of the wa­ter.

Some of the ideas for open­ing areas in the At­lantic and Arc­tic were sim­il­ar to those floated by Pres­id­ent George W. Bush while he was in of­fice, but Obama’s 2010 plan still held back from open­ing Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay, the Pa­cific Coast, and areas north of New Jer­sey along the At­lantic Coast.

The plan re­leased on Tues­day scales that back even more. Even though In­teri­or said the five-year plan would open up more than 75 per­cent of po­ten­tial re­sources through 15 lease sales in six off­shore areas, the pro­pos­al doesn’t in­clude any­thing off the At­lantic Coast nor in parts of the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico that are still un­der a con­gres­sion­al ban. Spe­cific­ally, the new pro­posed areas in­clude five an­nu­al lease sales to be­gin in the fall of 2012 in the west­ern Gulf of Mex­ico; five an­nu­al lease sales be­gin­ning in the spring of 2013 in the cent­ral Gulf; and two lease sales in 2014 and 2016 in areas of the east­ern Gulf that are not un­der the ex­ist­ing morator­i­um.

Though Obama’s more-am­bi­tious plans in the spring of 2010 were tempered by the BP spill, Jac­queline Savitz, Oceana’s seni­or cam­paign dir­ect­or, said the new pro­pos­al “is still a big con­ces­sion to the in­dustry.

“I think the spill really opened people’s eyes. I’m sur­prised, though, at how short our memor­ies are,” she ad­ded.

What We're Following See More »
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
10 hours ago

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
10 hours ago

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
10 hours ago

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
10 hours ago

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
11 hours ago

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”